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Rock slide blocks traffic at Silver Creek Cliff tunnel

It's a rare occurrence, but the North Shore's Silver Creek Cliff tunnel experienced a small rock slide that covered Highway 61 on Aug. 31. Beth Petrowske, public affairs director with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said the rock slid...

It's a rare occurrence, but the North Shore's Silver Creek Cliff tunnel experienced a small rock slide that covered Highway 61 on Aug. 31.

Beth Petrowske, public affairs director with the Minnesota Department of Transportation, said the rock slide happened Wednesday night at the tunnel on Highway 61. She said there were not many large rocks and everything was cleared by MnDOT crews by hand.

Petrowske said she doesn't know the last time a rock slide covered the roadway, but she said catchments above the tunnel entryways are cleared once a year, if not more. A check of news archives shows work was done in 2007 to remove larger rocks by crane.

The retaining wall-like structures are lined with a metal mesh and are meant to catch falling rock. She said although most of the rocks are caught, sometimes nature and gravity get the best of them. "It's the unfortunate problem of having scenic roads along very steep cliffs," Petrowske said.

Two Harbors resident John Carr was driving along Highway 61 toward Two Harbors about 5:30 p.m. Aug. 31 when he saw what he thought at first was a car accident with a fire. The dust created by the falling rock looked like smoke pouring out of the tunnel, he said.

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Carr noticed a vehicle back out of the dust and pull over onto the shoulder. Everyone was able to avoid the rock slide without damage to vehicles or injury. Carr put his emergency lights on to warn other travelers and picked up what he said were baseball- to volleyball-sized rocks out of the roadway so that other motorists would not hit them.

Petrowske says it is rare for rock slides to make it to the roadway at the Highway 61 tunnels, but when they do, motorists should call MnDOT as soon as possible so highway crews can get out to clean up the debris.

"That is nature and we can only do the best we can," she said.

Related Topics: TRANSPORTATION
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